WWTD? (What will Tanaka do?)
I hope everyone had a great Christmas.
Let’s try an exercise. Here’s the scenario: First, imagine you are not a Cubs fan (this is probably harder for some than others). Second, imagine you’re Japanese pitching phenom Masahiro Tanaka (stay with me here). Third, imagine you have the option of signing with any major league team. Which team would you choose? Would you automatically go with the highest bid? Do you want to play on a team with a rich tradition of championships like the Yankees? Do you want to go to a team loaded with win-now major league talent like the Dodgers? Do you want to play in a market where you can maximize endorsement deals and media exposure? …or, do you select a team who is a few years away from being competitive, plays in a historic ballpark, hasn’t won in 100+ years, and (might) offer you the biggest contract (i.e., the Cubs)? Would a chance to bring a championship to this team matter? Do you even know the history of the Cubs?
Multiple reports have indicated that the Cubs will be “all in” on Tanaka. Perhaps they’ve been saving and “shaving” payroll in preparation for this opportunity. Maybe they see this as the first step toward competitiveness over the next 2 to 3 years. It is a rare thing to be able to land a talent of this caliber and to lose nothing but money.
So, for now, let’s assume that the finances will be there (something we won’t be sure of until the deal is made public). What would it take to convince Tanaka to come to Chicago? Even though it’s my favorite city (and I’m not a Chicagoan), I have no idea how known Chicago is in Japan – or how popular the Cubs are there. If Tanaka knows something of Chicago, maybe they have a chance, but if he sees it just as a city in the middle of the country with a bad team (and poor player facilities), would it even be possible to land him at all? Fukodome did sign with the Cubs, but he’s not in the same league as Tanaka as far as demand. Will the Cubs have to overwhelm Tanaka with a contract offer that is significantly larger than other offers? Could – and should – the Cubs do that?
So, imagine you are in Tanaka’s shoes right now. What would you do? What factors would determine your course of action?
Have a safe and happy new year!